The 368th film I have seen in Theaters…
I have finished a second viewing of this film, in IMAX 3D no less, and it’s time to share my thoughts. Spoilers WILL follow
Krypton: Right out of my childhood
The film begins with the birth of Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van. They live on the planet Krypton, and formerly great society that has now fallen into decay. Governed by a RIGID caste system, Kryptonians are gestate in “Genesis Chambers” instead of wombs. All the genetic coding for Krypton is done according to the planets needs. A Soldier is engineered to be a soldier in the chamber. A scientist is engineered to be so in the chamber. It has led to a degredation of their society as there is no deviation, no spark of freedom in life choices. Jor-El sees this flaw and, against all the laws of their people, fathers a natural born child with Lara, an act of heresy.
I must interject here with one point. This idea of a sterile Krypton is straight out of my childhood. In 1985, when John Byrne “reinvented” Superman for the big Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, he made a cold, joyless, and sterile Krypton a part of that. Even the floating robot from that series, ” Kelor”, is in the film!
Kelor is the Robot that assists Jor-El in the Man of Steel comic. He is also in the film, and addressed by name. Even the look of the Kryptonians is inspired by the comic. For most of Superman’s history, Jor-El and Lara, and most Kryptonians, looked like this:
in 1986, John Byrne created this:
While there are some differences, there is a clear design tie between this version of both Jor-El and Lara, and the Kryptonian Council in the new film. Note the metallic spiky headress and the “Only face showing” head covering:
So basically, in the first 5 minutes of the film, they directly referenced my absolute FAVORITE interpretation of Superman, and Krypton. That’s a damn good start.
As Jor-El is meeting with the Council to discuss a plan to save Krypton, the Civil War happens.
The Military leader of Krypton, General Zod, leads a rebellion and murders or imprisons the ruling council. He also takes Jor-El, who manages to escape and steal the Codex- the genetic record that is used to “birth” Kryptonians. Jor-El makes his way back to his lab, where he, and Lara, place little Kal-El into a spaceship, encode him with the genetic library of the codex (hidden in his DNA) and rocket him off to Earth, just as Zod breaks in and kills Jor-El. His coup having failed, Zod is taken prisoner. He and his followers are placed in the Phantom Zone for punishment. Krypton explodes. Kal-El reaches Earth.
We next see Kal-El, now Clark Kent, traveling the world, working odd jobs here and there, trying to find clues of his heritage as an Alien. He is compelled to help people as he travels, being at heart a decent man. Up in northern Canada, the US government has discovered an object buried in the ice. It is huge, and it has been there for 18,000 years. Reporter Lois Lane travels to study this story and sees a worker from the dig going off alone. Sensing a story, she follows him. The worker is Clark, who knows that the object in the ice is somehow related to the rocketship that brought him to Earth. He makes his way inside, and discovers that it is a spaceship. Using a Kryptonian Flashdrive, placed in his capsule by Jor-El, he activates the ship and an Artificial Intelligence, implanted in the drive, uploads to the ship. Lois runs afoul of some security bots and is injured. Clark rescues her and heals her wound (Cauterize baby!). He flies off in the ship, and leaves her safely on the snow to be rescued by troops.
Lois tries to publish the story of this Alien visitor, but cannot due to lack of evidence. She then spends some time tracing Clark’s travels through America as he helped people in his various jobs. The trail leads back to Smallville, Kansas.
Clark, on the ship, meets the A.I. which is a copy of Jor-El. He learns his true name, his origins, the fate of Krypton, and is given a Suit, of Kryptonian make bearing the symbol of the House of El- the famous S-Shield. Jor-El tells Kal to test his limits, become stronger, and use his powers for good, to be an example of hope to the people of Earth. He then jumps away, leaping tall building in a single bound, until he figures out how to fly.
Lois tracks down Ma Kent and goes to Jonathan Kent’s grave, where Clark meets her and expresses the fear that the people of Earth would fear him, rather than accept him.
Through this past section, Clark has flashbacks to his young life. We see him dealing with his x-ray vision and super hearing- how they overload his senses and scare him. His mother teaches him to focus his mind and essentially meditate the scary stuff away. He learns to be a decent person, never picking a fight. He protects the innocent by saving his school mates from a bus accident. He is show his spaceship and his father’s fear that Clark will be discovered is repeatedly shown. Pa Kent would rather his son stay secret, but he realizes that this might not be viable, at least not until he is ready. Kent is killed in a Tornado, giving his life rather than be saved by Clark- the act of which would have revealed his powers. Back in modern times, as Clark visits with his mother, something strange has happened.
The activation of the 18,000 year old spaceship has alerted General Zod to Kal-El’s presence. After the destruction of Krypton, the rebels were released from the Phantom Zone. Knowing that Kal-El, and the codex, are the key to Krypton’s ressurection, they travel from Kryptonian outpost to outpost for 30 years in search of him. With a location, he flies to earth and delivers a terrifying message.
Deciding to trust the people of Earth, Clark turns himself over to the Military to protect Earth. The Kryptonians land, take him and Lois up the their mothership. There Superman meets Zod, and learns of his plans to destroy Earth and make “New Krypton” on its ashes. Using the aid of the Jor-El hologram, he and Lois escape back to Earth as Zod lands in Smallville searching for the Codex.
From here on out, the film moves into Action Movie heaven. Superman fights the Kryptonians in Smallville, and beats them back. They decided to use their “world engine” to destroy Earth and start the conversion process. Superman attacks the engine, in India, as the mothership starts to destroy Metropolis. The Army attacks, without avail, while Lois uses a plan, hatched by Holo-Jor-El to send them back to the Phantom Zone. Spectacular battles follow, and the plan eventually works. The Kryptonians are sucked away to the P.Z. and only Zod remains. What happens next is the greatest superhero fight ever put on screen. Zod versus Superman is a thing of beauty. The battle plays out, and it comes down to one moment- Zod now wants to kill everyone on Earth. Superman must stop him. He has him pinned in a headlock. Zod uses his heat vision and is trying to fry a family (mom, dad, kids) right in front of Superman. Having no option, he snaps Zod’s neck- killing him. Superman lets out a scream of anguish at the guilt of what he had just done.
The story finishes up at this point. Clark dons the glasses, and starts working alongside Lois at the Daily Planet.
Henry Cavill is seemingly born to play Superman. He is physically a complete match to everyone’s conception of the character. He brings a true sense of humanity, and a little fear, to Clark as he struggles to become Superman.
Amy Adams is a near perfect Lois Lane. Rather than be an idiot, she discovers Clark’s identity and is a willing partner to him. The chemistry between her and Cavill was intense. Also, she is the latest Redhead to take on the role, after the perfect for her time Noel Neill.
Michael Shannon is Zod. Terence Stamp has been washed away. This PHENOMENAL actor infuses Zod with such passion! He is never a mustache twirling villain. His motivations are clear. He is a soldier and acts as such. So good.
Diane Lane and Kevin Costner provide a real moral center to this film. Their work in the Smallville scenes are the strongest in the film. Costner has never been better.
Russell Crowe absolutely owned the role of Jor-El. This is, by far, my favorite interpretation of the character. In the few minutes we see him, we know Jor-El’s morals, motivations, and desire to do good. He is just as much a hero as his son will become. Ayelet Zurer is Lara Lor-Van and really sells a mother’s pain in her brief appearance.
Antje Traue plays Faora- General Zod’s second in Command. As awesome as Zod was, she was the clearly best realized Kryptonian. She hands Superman his ASS in their fight. She was just phenomenal.
Lawrence Fishburne enters the series as Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet. He did not have much to do, but what little there was, particularly his scene with “Jenny” Olsen, was well done.
Hans Zimmer gives a great score to this film, no easy feat without using the John Williams theme. The script, by David Goyer and Story by Christopher Nolan, was pretty damned good. Zack Snyder (300, Watchment, Sucker Punch) directs, and brings his experience with action flims to great use in Man of Steel.
This movie is fairly divisive with audiences. What I think is being missed here, is that The Richard Donner Superman is not the ONLY Superman story that exists. The big gripe is that this movie is “joyless”. What nonsense. By “joyless” they mean that there is no comedy relief. Sometimes it can be included, to great effect in these films, but I feel it was wisely left out. Avengers, a movie I adore, is essentially action, joke, action, joke, rinse and repeat. Joss Whedon is very good at this style of story. This, along with similar style in past Marvel Films, and the comedy of Otis in the original Superman movies, is that people equate comic book movies (not starring Batman) to need Comedy.
Much of the hate I see coming to this movie stems from the choice of Superman to kill Zod. Back in 1988, there was a phenomenal Superman story involving “Kryptonian villains”. For some reason they did not call him Zod, but it was Zod. They cause tremendous acts of genocide and Superman knows that they need to be stopped. He uses Kryptonite to execute them, saving billions of lives in doing so. This was the last story John Byrne did in his amazing 2 years on Superman. The effects of this story, and the tremendous guilt felt by Superman, were a driving force for YEARS to come. Superman does not kill. This comic showed why, and its ripple effect demonstrated what happens to Superman when he crosses that line. He does not sink into darkness, but rises above it, striving to be a better man. That’s Superman.
The Man of Steel is a well written, well acted, well directed film. It is not a comedy, it is a serious movie. This is action drama at it’s finest.